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The Off-Season:  Headed In The Right Direction

The Off-Season: Headed In The Right Direction

by Tim Kabel

March 17, 2022

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I wrote a really nice article Sunday night. It was going to be published on SSTN on Monday. It was witty and clever and lambasted the Yankees for not making any moves since the lockout ended. I even compared Brian Cashman to Rip van Winkle. Ten minutes after I sent it in, the Yankees made the blockbuster trade with the Twins. Consequently, my article was seen by even less people than the most recent Nicholas Cage movie.

The Yankees have begun making major transformations to their roster in just a few days. Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela are gone. Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Ben Rortvedt, and Anthony Rizzo are here.

The Yankees gave up a catcher with whom they were no longer satisfied and a third baseman who was being transformed into a shortstop and who had lost a good deal of his luster. The Yankees did not give up any prospects.

They now have a new starting third baseman, who is a former MVP, an excellent defensive shortstop, who is decent offensively, and the player who was the top ranked defensive catcher in the Minnesota Twins organization and who was a protégé of the Yankees’ catching coordinator, Tanner Swanson. They have also clarified the first base situation by reuniting with Rizzo, a platinum glove quality fielder.

The Yankees are a better team today than they were Sunday afternoon, and it cost them no prospects. They did not give up even a marginal minor leaguer. That is amazing. And great news for the organization.

Of course, there is still more work to be done. With Anthony Rizzo installed as the starting first baseman, Luke Voit has no position on this team. He proved last year that he is not a great bench player. He certainly would not be a defensive replacement for Rizzo. He would not even be a defensive replacement on Old Timers Day. I expect he will be traded in the next day or so. (The way my luck is going, he might be traded as I’m writing this.)

With Donaldson playing third for the most part, and Kiner-Falefa playing short, that leaves second base to be manned by Gleyber Torres or DJ LeMahieu. If LeMahieu does not start at second, he will rotate around the infield playing games at first, second, and third. I don’t think that will happen. I imagine Gleyber Torres will be traded, either shortly before, shortly after, or along with Luke Voit.

There are rumors that the Yankees are talking about a trade with Oakland for one of their two available starting pictures, Frankie Montas or Shawn Manaea. It is possible that since Oakland traded away Matt Olson to Atlanta, they may want Luke Voit to play first.

I also believe the Yankees will be making an upgrade in centerfield. Brian Cashman made a distinct point of saying that at the end of last season. They have not yet addressed centerfield. I believe they will. I have suggested before that I would like to see the Yankees pick up Cedric Mullins from Baltimore. Gleyber Torres always hit well in Baltimore and perhaps that would be just the change of scenery he needs. I am not suggesting it would be a one-for-one trade but, Torres would be a good starting point. The season will be starting on April 7th.There are still more changes to be made. There is some speculation that the Yankees may wait out either Trevor Story or Carlos Correa, and strike at the last minute to sign one of them, making Kiner-Falefa a utility infielder. Anything is possible but, I suspect it’s more likely that Kiner-Falefa will hold down the fort until Oswald Peraza is ready to play in the Majors. That might be in 2022, or it might be in 2023.

I look at what the Yankees have done and try to see down the road. They did not sign Freddie Freeman to a long-term contract. They signed Anthony Rizzo to a reasonable two-year contract, which has the ability for him to opt out after one year. They have not signed one of the big free agent shortstops. They traded for Kiner-Falefa, who is viewed as a stopgap until Peraza or Volpe arrive. They acquired Rortvedt, who is 24 years old. I think the Yankees knew what they were doing by acquiring him, and I would suspect that over the course of the season, he may evolve into a serviceable major leaguer, at the very least. Defensively, he is already supposed to be excellent. His acquisition may have ripple effects. One of the top Yankees’ prospects is Austin Wells, a left-handed, offensive catcher, who many people feel will ultimately change positions, most likely to first base. That process may begin this year in AA, as he splits time behind the plate with Josh Breaux.

I believe Brian Cashman may be envisioning a homegrown infield of Austin Wells at first, Anthony Volpe at second, Oswald Peraza at short, and Trey Sweeney at third. That may seem a bit far-fetched but, think about this: Josh Donaldson will be here for two more years, with the option to buy him out for the third year. Anthony Rizzo will be here for two years. If Torres is traded and DJ LeMahieu plays second, he could easily revert to his rotating role when all the current minor leaguers are ready. Kiner-Falefa is not an automatic out and he’s an excellent fielder but, he is not about to block of the path of a top prospect. Ideally Rortvedt will develop as a catcher and will eventually split time in some fashion with Josh Breaux or potentially, Antonio Gomez.

I may be getting a little ahead of myself but, I don’t think Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner decided not to sign Carlos Correa or Freddy Freeman because they were being misers. I think they decided to avoid long-term contracts with expensive free agents because of the talent they have in the minor leagues. They are acquiring people who can help them win now but, will not block the paths of their younger players when they are ready for the Majors. This is an excellent strategy.

So far, I’m very pleased with what the Yankees are doing. Now they need a centerfielder and perhaps another starting pitcher.

It’s quite possible that as I’m writing this, those things are being done. (It has happened before.)

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